Sure, uncovering the sexism in Axe ad campaigns is somewhat akin to uncovering the yarn at a craft store, but how can we move forward in our gender and advertising symposium without Axe under our belts? Instead of debating whether or not these ads are offensive (because, duh) I thought we’d take a look at an all-star lineup of some of the worst Axe has had to offer recently, and then put it to a vote. It’s the Offensive Axe Campaign Showdown!
Contestant #1: Manly Shower Gel Man
The message: If you fail to use Axe Shower Gel, everyone will mistake you for a woman. Which is the worst thing you could possibly be, because women are awful. Also, it makes total sense to sexualize woodland creatures by having bikini-clad women scrub you down while wearing animal masks. Obviously.
Contestant #2: The Ball Cleaner
The message: First of all, ball euphemisms are hilarious (omg we’re not just talking about golf balls you guyz!). Also, if you are a man, the only thing stopping women from grabbing your testicles is the scrubber you use in the shower. If you’re a woman, you pretty much just love balls. (Is anyone else bummed to see Jaime Pressly in this ad? Bogus.)
Contestant #3: Smelly Fingers
The message: You know how guys make other guys smell their fingers after they’ve had sex with a woman? (btw I am not saying all guys do this) Well women can do that now, too! We can all get in on this finger-sniffing action! Women turn into totally disgusting horn dogs when Axe is in the mix!
Contestant #4: Dark Temptation
The message: It’s hard to ignore the underlying racism of this spot. “Dark Temptation”? The man (once he turns from white to, um, chocolate) is literally devoured by the women chasing him. Somehow I doubt that when bell hooks wrote “Eating the Other” she meant it this literally. Also, this is yet another ad where women are rendered uncontrollably sex-crazed by the scent of Axe.
Contestant #5: The Defendant
The message: Here we see a different angle from our friends at Axe: Slut shaming. This message goes above and beyond, and the woman here is accused of outrageous, and illegal, sex crimes. It’s OK though, because in Axe court things like “assault with a ball gag” are fun and sexy!
Closing arguments: OK, so all of these ads have something terrible to offer. But before we vote on which is the worst, let’s take a minute to think about Axe (just a minute though, or we might all start barfing). Why does Axe advertise in this way? Why has it proven to be (seemingly) so successful? These ads go beyond sex jokes and deep into racist, misogynist, dangerous territory. Could Axe get the attention it does without being so offensive? What is about the messages here that registers for so many people?
Now let’s vote!
This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.